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Horse Help Center

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Older rental horse rescued.


I have recently rescued a "lead pack, rental horse". She is 20 yrs old and we are having some problems. I am a beginner rider, she is teaching me to ride western, with the help of a trainer. The horse was very underweight, with no muscle tone and stiff when I got her. It's been 4 months; she has gained 130 lbs or so, no longer stiff and gaining strength being in a pasture of 30 acres with 2 other mares.

My problem is that she has become herd bound. I can't ride her for more then 30 min. before she turns around to head for the gate. If I stop her from doing this she gets very angry, sweats like crazy, and has a temper tantrum. I get off at this point, and my trainer works her through it. She is stomping, and having a fit the whole time. I know 40 min. of easy riding isn't too much to ask of her. I know if I stop she will think that I am rewarding her temper tantrum, and will continue. Also, she is VERY weak on her right side and absolutely will not lunge to the right. I have been doing some ground work with her, and she is fine as long as I am leading her with her head at my shoulder, if I pivot my body to the side or facing her she refuses to move, I can't seem to get her away from me.

Can you help?


Sounds like you do have a few challenges there. First thing is to get some weight on the horse, which you have been doing. If you think about it you cannot blame her for being herd bound. It sounds like her life with humans wasn't so good. What I would do is to focus on the ground work (play) for a while and develop your bond with her more. I know you want to ride right away, but you have no real relationship with this horse yet. It is what you do on the ground (more than feeding and grooming) that makes the difference initially. I endeavor to become the "herd leader" for every horse I am with. But that means a lot more time spent on the ground doing exercises and games. This is what will build your bond, not riding the horse and trying to make something happen with her. She needs to trust you and look to you for guidance and leadership.

If your trainer knows her stuff and doesn€št just lunge a horse to exercise it but to help establish the "bond" as well, she can show you what I mean by ground games. There can be so much more to lunging a horse than merely exercising it. It is a way to begin to dance with a horse. It will make you a better rider because you will become more in tune with your horse.

I would also flex the horse's neck from side to side. Your trainer should be able to show you how to do this, as it is a basic of good horsemanship to be able to flex your horse's neck on the ground and in the saddle. For this horse and every horse, I would practice doing both. It will help the horse move better in both directions. You say 40 minutes of easy riding shouldn't be too much to ask. However, if this horse were in pain at all, it would be. Are you certain there is no pain in the horse's back? Ask your trainer to palpate (apply specific pressure) to the horse's back to see if it is in pain. If you are hurting, you may be able to stand the discomfort for a while, but after a certain point it is just too much and you want to stop moving. It can be this way for the horse as well. Pain is the most common reason for problems with horses trying to move normally. Please try to find out if this horse is in pain, because I think it is. Her resistance to moving to the right is immediate testimony that there is pain present. Perhaps with flexing some of that can be worked through. But back pain will put a halt to your horse wanting to move and you can't really blame her. You need to be sure your saddle fits properly as well. An ill fitting saddle can cause horrible pain for a horse.

Her seeming herd bound antics are probably just that, coupled with discomfort. You must look at the discomfort first. Find out what is going on. The behavioral problem, herd bound, I have addressed in a number of questions that are archived in the Help Center on the website. All you have to do is just type in "herd bound"€š into the search function of the Help Center.

To correct her bound behavior does require some horsemanship skills. It is not supposed to be a battle. Even correcting a horse is supposed to still be a dance of sorts. There are techniques for it. If you are unable to understand what I have offered in previous emails around the same question, let me know. I have begun to take on several coaching clients. I coach them via the telephone, usually, for an hour at a time. Anyway, I can give so much more assistance and information quicker over the phone than in an email, which takes quite a long time to write anyway. Please consider this as an option that has real value to you. My consultations cost as much as a piano or riding lesson and is most effective and convenient. However, your trainer should know what techniques I speak of to move a horse through being herd bound to trusting the human as their great leader (if she is a knowledgeable trainer).

Anyway, I hope I have given you a few things to think about and to try in order for you to help this horse. Never blame the horse for anything. They are innocent always and subject to the whims, misunderstanding, projections and unfair judgments put upon them by humans who may be well meaning, but heap abuse on horses out of ignorance, ego and lack of knowledge. If you love your horse, be kind, compassionate, patient and look for ways to help. Contacting me was a good step. I am an advocate for all horses. I hope you will become one as well.

Sincerely, Franklin

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